You Matter: Middle School Chapel

On May 10th, ICS middle school students had a special visit from Bobby Petrocelli, a college baseball player turned high school football coach turned motivational speaker. “I didn’t have a favorite part,” said fifth grader Scott T. “It was all awesome. Ask anyone in fifth grade and they’ll tell you it was a very moving experience.”

Mr. Petrocelli is no stranger to suffering. After two short years of marriage, a drunk driver crashed into the side of Mr. Petrocelli’s home, instantly killing his sleeping wife and setting him on a twenty year path of physical, mental and spiritual healing. His message to the ICS students was this: life can change in a single moment. The decisions we make—to abuse alcohol, to be a friend to someone in need, to forgive others for the hurt they may have caused us, are momentary decisions that can echo through eternity.

Though middle schoolers are still young, it is a time fraught with change and tough decisions. Do the things I had in common with my best friend from second grade still matter? Do I care about being a good student? And most importantly – where does my faith factor in on my list of priorities, if at all? We often see students then retreat inward either out of introspection or self-consciousness, wondering whether they are the only ones struggling with doubt and fear, tentative to open their hearts up to the possibility of rejection.

This is perhaps why Mr. Petrocelli’s message had such an impact on so many of them. Two simple words “you matter,” served as a reminder to our students that though we are heading into a time of report cards, of sports team championships and of end-of-year performances, what matters most is who they are and not what they do. “Every person in this world is of great value to God,” Mr. Petrocelli emphatically reminded them, and that is the message of John 3:16, for God so loved us that He sent His only Son. Jesus suffered because we are precious to Him. Even when we make mistakes, feel friendless, don’t measure up to the impossible standards of success the world has set up for us.

Mr. Petrocelli singled out a student in the crowd and learned her name. He reminded her that she was the only one in the entire world with the name Brooke and that particular set of fingerprints, of hairs on her head, of DNA strands. He told her that God created her in His own image and that nothing about her was a mistake.

The weight of that, I can only hope, permanently settled into the hearts of our students. Here was a man who in an instant lost almost everything important to him, but in his suffering remembered that we can even use the hard stuff to glorify God. “He really inspired me,” said seventh grader Chris B. “He used analogies from his own life and compared them to other people’s lives.”

In middle school you can feel that being vulnerable isn’t necessarily a good thing. Sharing your story can open you up to ridicule or feeling different than others. But in walks this hulking former college athlete with a heavy Brooklyn accent, sweating profusely through the story of the hardest minute of his life and doing so because he knows that through helping the souls of others he brings glory to God. And they think maybe, just maybe, my story matters too.

“Christ’s heart is to take all our brokenness to the cross,” Mr. Petrocelli stated before he closed his time in prayer. He asked the students to raise their hands as they felt led to acknowledge they needed God’s help to face the hurts in their lives. As he prayed I saw both big and little hands shoot up across in the room. Some hesitantly, others boldly, a silent moment of solidarity as they acknowledged the pain of growing up in a broken world.

If you have a fifth through eighth grade child at ICS, please ask them about this. As America’s young people drift away from the church in droves, embrace lifestyles designed to destroy their images, and succumb to depression and anxiety disorders, it is our job as their parents, teachers, and heirs in Christ to protect them. To ease their burdens. To bring these frustrating but wonderful, difficult but unique teens before the throne of grace and ask the Holy Spirit to stir in their hearts as only He can.

For more information on Bobby Petrocelli or to order his book, please check out his website. As astute seventh grader Asa G. cautions, however, “it would be a little intense for the younger kids.”

To learn more about our middle school program click here.